Bikies and other organised crime groups are believed to have infiltrated Qantas to aid drug trafficking and other crimes that constitute a threat to national security, according to law enforcement.
A “substantial” number of Qantas employees – up to 150 – have been tied to criminality, according to a covert federal law enforcement intelligence operation code-named Project Brunello.
The operation details alleged misconduct that is “severe” and poses a “significant threat to Australia’s border.”
One of the most worrying of the suspected “trusted insiders” within Qantas, according to official sources briefed on the discoveries but unable to talk publicly due to confidentiality obligations is a Comanchero motorcycle gang affiliate related to international drug cartel chief Hakan Ayik.
This individual is employed as a mid-level manager at Qantas’ Sydney airport operations, and intelligence indicates that he has recruited criminals to assist in the importation of narcotics.
The facts raise major questions for both the airline and the federal government, and they come after previous investigations warned of growing security holes in ports and airports.
They also create concerns for federal Labor, which is opposed to Coalition-backed transport security legislation that would allow criminal information to be used to prevent workers from gaining aviation and maritime government security clearances.
Chief security officer Luke Bramah of the Qantas Group told The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, and 60 Minutes that “We find these assertions concerning because we follow all of the government’s vetting requirements. We are not aware of any ongoing investigations into workers of the Qantas Group who are involved in organized crime. If any of our workers are the subject of a complaint, we will aggressively support their investigation and take appropriate action.”
He said that Qantas was the only commercial airline with an Australian Border Force Trusted Trader certificate “This means that every employee involved in international air freight must pass a fitness test. Border Force has not informed us of any of our employees failing this test.”
However, according to Project Brunello’s July 2020 assessment, “trusted insiders” at Australia’s largest airline have ties to organized crime and have been able to “do tremendous harm” to the Australian people by assisting cross-border smuggling.
According to official sources briefed on the report, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission found that some Qantas employees were creating “vulnerabilities in the security of supply chains and critical infrastructure” that threatened to erode the public’s trust in border security and the airline’s reputation.
A Hells Angels-affiliated individual working as a Qantas contractor in the Northern Territory has been discovered.
He was previously suspected of infiltrating Department of Defense planes that were subcontracted to Qantas, according to intelligence.
Brunello also discovered a Qantas freight contractor in Perth who was “using his trusted insider status” to make significant narcotics deliveries on several occasions.
Brunello believes that Damion Flower, a former Qantas baggage handler who became a wealthy Sydney racing figure after pleading guilty to importing $68.5 million worth of cocaine in May, had actually imported $1 billion worth of cocaine via Qantas and a corrupt Qantas baggage handler, who has since been jailed.
The full amount of Flower’s Qantas trafficking, as well as Project Brunello’s other findings, had never been made public before.
The nation’s top law enforcement intelligence agency also discovered five Qantas employees with ties to alleged “national security” criminality including Islamic radicalism, although there were no urgent threats, according to the investigation.
Qantas’ air freight division, as well as its ground staff and baggage handling divisions, were the most vulnerable. Almost 60 Qantas employees were tied to “severe drug offenses” or “organized crime groups,” according to the report.
Twenty-three Qantas employees “used employment in the aviation industry to support various criminal acts,” according to the investigation.
Seven Qantas employees have been linked to child abuse, including one who was prosecuted last year with collecting and creating child pornography outside of Australia, according to the research, which also warns of a probable tiny network of sex offenders at Brisbane International Airport.
Project Brunello’s conclusions were based on a deep dive by the commission, which looked into years of intelligence holdings as well as an exhaustive assessment of Qantas’ employee and contractor records, according to multiple sources familiar with the results.
Intelligence is often obtained in the field by state and federal investigators, phone taps, data analysis, and human informants, and is used by the commission to make strategic assessments if it is deemed reliable.
The accusations of Qantas infiltration follow revelations by the commission’s head, Michael Phelan, that Australia’s most dangerous and wanted criminals had banded together to form a cartel that makes an estimated $1.5 billion a year transporting drugs through the country’s borders.
The committee claims that the “Aussie Cartel” is made up of nine men drawn primarily from Australian biker gangs and middle-eastern crime syndicates.
Some of the suspected Qantas “trusted insiders” identified by Brunello have ties to the cartel’s top Comanchero-linked individuals.
If the stalled planned airport and port security laws “aren’t passed today,” Mr. Phelan predicted, “there will be 225 people… who have very close relationships to serious and organized crime.”
The research also warns that the COVID-19 outbreak could open up new avenues for criminals to target Qantas and its employees.
“The threat of trusted insiders at Qantas will continue to be very significant,” even as overseas passenger traffic declines.
The findings raise major concerns regarding border security measures and legal weaknesses, especially in light of repeated warnings dating back to 2003, when whistleblower Alan Kessing raised charges of major border compromises, which were backed up by the 2005-Wheeler assessment.
Brunello also expresses concerns for Qantas, noting inconsistencies in the airline’s operations “Qantas has business processes that, if strengthened, might make insider placement options for OCGs [organized crime groups] more difficult. Drug testing, recruitment, and criminal background checks are among them.”
Mr. Phelan, the chairman of the Crime Intelligence Commission, declined to disclose if Qantas had been hacked, but said his agency “worked very closely with Qantas” and that other private corporations were at risk.
Mr. Phelan supports proposed legislation backed by the government that would allow criminal intelligence to be utilized instead of existing criminal convictions when determining whether or not someone may operate at key airports and maritime installations.
Labor and certain unions have already expressed concerns that the new port and airport security identity card legislation are defective and could unfairly penalize some employees based on unproven charges.
Mr. Phelan, on the other hand, claimed that the measures now before Parliament were based solely on very trustworthy intelligence, that they would be used rarely, and that they would be subject to appeal.
Mr. Bramah, Qantas’ security chief, said the airline had been “strong advocates” of adopting intelligence checks for all security cards and was glad the federal government was trying to get it passed.
“In addition to the criminal background checks that happen every two years, we’d like to see real-time background checks, so airlines and airports know right away if an employee has been convicted of a crime,” he said.
“We’ve had a number of positive conversations with the administration on this over the years.”